TO THE RESCUE — AGAIN

June 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

VARICOSE VALLEY – This is my small abode I visit for weekends and during times I need to get away from it all – the “all” being bail bondsmen, repo men and bounty hunters. My lean-to looks like it’s been hit by a shotgun, with the roof thatch pulled back, paint pocked, even the pink flamingoes sport holes, well, more holes. In recent weeks, Texas has been struck by floods, rain, swamped riverfronts and high winds, everything but a plague of locusts. I think it was all due to our wishes for rain to end the drought. Be careful what you wish for.

And this is only the beginning of hurricane season – the Red Cross has thrown out the first doughnut – touching off our annual chaos. We have all seen scenes of the destruction on local TV, even national TV, if we have not experienced it ourselves. So this is a good time to check off some constantly recurring events, including some which are uncomfortable. First, our TV weather reports. As we know, our TV meteorologists push the panic button when a dark cloud appears west of Africa. When the cloud turns into a breeze, stations start showing maps and charts and spaghetti lines – all heading toward their viewing area.

If a storm actually comes close, TV stations break out the Dan Rather Syndrome. For those new to Texas, years ago – to give you an idea of how long ago, it was Hurricane XVI – a storm hit the Gulf coast, and a young, unknown reporter named Dan Rather from station KHOU-TV in Houston was sent out to cover the storm. So there was Dan swaying on the Galveston Seawall or standing knee-deep in flooded streets as the rain and wind whipped around him, while he reported that he was swaying while the rain and wind etc. Network suits in NYC spotted this talent and the rest is a success story — until the Texas Air National Guard brouhaha. Ever since then, any TV reporter sent to cover any Gulf storm story sees that as his or her route to stardom. Back at the TV station it is the weather person’s 15 minutes of fame, and they milk it to the hilt.

This fearmongering works, as rating take off. Then we see the rush to stock up. Again, the TV reporters are out in the aisles questioning panicked shoppers who are hoarding up on dog food. And, always, plywood. No storm story is complete without a lumber yard selling sheets of plywood followed by shots of Billy Joe and his four sons madly hammering nails to hold up plywood over doors and windows. I have a question: does plywood rust to sawdust over the winter? If not, why is everyone buying a new supply of the boards every year?

Now we come to a touchy point, and again we go to the TV news. “This is the third time I’ve been flooded,” says some mouth-breather. “The National Guard done had to rescue me and my 12 dogs. FEMA promised me money to rebuild.” Like most people, my heart goes out to the poor fellow and to his dogs. His house is a mess. His pickup has been washed from its blocks in the front yard and down the street. And my thoughts are like yours: “Am I having to pay for this? Again?”

We all sympathize with people in Tornado Alley, Okla., who annually get their farm blown into the next state while they cower in the school gym because they don’t have a storm cellar or even a bathtub to hide in. We give to the charities that rush to help. But how many years will we still be shelling out cash to these same people who got a house on the cheap because it’s in the six-month flood plain?

Houses along beaches are sure to flood if not disappear, it’s just a matter of when. Houses along riverbanks may last a bit longer, but they will eventually end up as firewood – or maybe plywood. We see homes in residential neighborhoods with their soggy carpets rolled up on the curbside, and molding furniture stacked by the street, and we feel sorry – sorry for ourselves because that means our own house insurance rates are going up. Houses that are in the floodplain are sitting on a ticking time bomb. So it’s in the 500-year flood plain. That study was made in 1515.

Money aside (a term which is hard for me to write), there is the safety factor. We see a National Guard or Coast Guard trooper dangling from a cable tightly hooked – he hopes – to a bouncing helicopter hovering over some guy who ignored the orange barricades across a low-water bridge. Firefighters extend their ladder horizontally to a driver who thought his ’69 VW Beetle could safely float through an underpass where the flood gauge clearly shows water lapping at the 5-foot mark. Less dangerous but also expensive are the caravans of FEMA workers who descend on the flooded areas with their forms, interviews – and checkbooks.

There is something called “flood insurance,” which is different from regular home insurance which only covers burned rice, Comanche attacks and acute mildew. Exceptions to coverage are listed on Pages 11-34, in Lithuanian. Flood insurance covers damage caused by floods, and should be required by any owner of a structure within a time zone of a 1,000-year flood plain. You ask, “But what about those who can’t afford flood insurance?” I’ll get back to you on that. There should also be a policy covering rescues. Otherwise, you and Ire paying for their safety, comfort and repairs. The charity we are all giving to, and generously, is the U.S. government. As for my dugout home here in Varicose Valley, I have paid dearly for insurance over the years, and now am fully protected. Wait! What’s that I hear? Sounds like a plague of locusts.

 

Ashby is floating at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Emerald Waters Entice Houston Travelers: Visit Destin Now

June 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Destin

Florida’s Emerald Waters Entice Houston Travelers

by Laurette M. Veres

ND_Beach3Once a sleepy fishing village, Destin Fl. has grown into a world-class vacation destination. Tourists were initially drawn to the pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. In the mid 1980s condo towers began popping up along the beach to house the visitors, with housing came more visitors, restaurants, shopping, excursions and all the trimmings of a resort city.

The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park just completed a $4 million dollar renovation. The beachside park features up close experiences with sea lions, otters, sharks and other marine life and entertains the whole family. The dolphins are the stars here and you can spend hours looking through the portals of their giant pavilion watching them swim. Sometimes they swim over and watch you!

Newman-Dailey offers the perfect Destin rental properties

Newman-Daily offers the perfect Destin rental properties

You can also look for dolphins in the wild. The 73 foot Sea Blaster heads out most evenings for a sunset cruise. The entertaining crew knows where the dolphins hang out and soon they’ll be swimming all around the boat. After watching dolphins at the Gulfarium, even the youngest kids can spot them in the open ocean.

 

Life in Destin revolves around gorgeous emerald green waters, sugar white beaches and sunshine.  To truly enjoy your stay, you want a place by the water. Resorts, high-rise condo rentals and immaculate water front homes dot the beach; quaint neighborhoods of beachy homes are nearby. Find your dream vacation rental through Newman-Dailey Resort Properties. The Royal Bahamian is a cute cottage in Crystal Beach. Just off the beach, it’s an easy walk down to the water. One block away is Camille’s, a casual and comfortable eatery.

Destin is family friendly and full of activities, dining and views. You can fly in to Fort Walton Beach airport, or make the eight-nine hour drive from Houston. Once you’re there, stay awhile- it’s time to relax.

 

STATUE OF LIMITATIONS

June 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

If we could change history, I probably would have picked Poland over Germany and given Custer the edge. Alas, we must make do with what we have. That is why students at The University of Texas at Austin — henceforth known as The (The is part of the name) University or UT — should leave poor Jefferson Davis where he is, or at least keep him on campus. After all, if it weren’t for Davis, UT would be trying to catch up to Texas A&M instead of the other way around.

In case you missed it, there is a movement by some Longhorns to remove a statue of Davis from the South Mall of the Forty Acres. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of the Student Government adopted a resolution in March supporting his ouster. Someone using blue chalk wrote “chump” on the statue’s base with an arrow pointing up to Davis. Then a few weeks ago someone wrote. “Davis must fall” and “Emancipate UT.” Students, keep rewriting history: drain Littlefield Fountain. George Littlefield gave more money than any other single individual to the university, including funds for the fountain and Littlefield Dorm. Years before, he was a member of Company I, Eighth Texas Cavalry, Confederate Army.

The midnight graffiti artists probably would not have been so bold dealing with the original. Davis was a West Point graduate, spent more than eight years as an officer in the army and was cited for bravery in a saber fight during the Mexican-American War. He had come through Texas during that conflict and kept an admiration for Texans. Years later, at the start of the Civil War, when the first companies of Texas soldiers reached Richmond, Va., by-then-Confederate President Davis greeted them by declaring, “Texans! The troops of other states have their reputations to gain, but the sons of the defenders of the Alamo have theirs to maintain.”

This is not the first time there was a movement to oust Davis. In 1991 a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature by Rep. Sam Hudson to remove Davis’ statue from the UT campus. Hudson wanted the statue either destroyed or put in storage. Hudson, an African-American, said the statue “is an abrasive reference to slavery.” The Legislators didn’t have to walk those blocks to the UT campus to see reminders of the Confederacy. They could look out their office windows. The Capitol grounds have more monuments to Texas’ role in the War Between the States than to anything else. Let’s rename Jeff Davis County, the Davis Mountains, several hospitals and vast numbers of schools.

If we remove Davis from our thoughts and history, we had better do the same to Robert E. Lee, who spent more time soldering in Texas than in the Confederate Army. Then there are Albert Sidney Johnston, Dick Dowling, Ashbel Smith, John Reagan, John Bell Hood, and Sul Ross, great president of Texas A&M. The Aggies even have a big statue of him prominently displayed on campus. Uh, but that is General Sul Ross, formerly of the Confederate Army. And what do we do about Sul Ross University?

The list of Texans who wore gray is long, mainly because we sent a higher percentage of our men off to war than did any other state, north and south. But we must not stop here. Sam Houston beat the Mexican Army. Perhaps that is unsettling to some whose ancestors fought for Santa Anna. Mirabeau B. Lamar hated Indians and had as many killed as he could. Scratch Lamar University. Scratch Fort Hood. Ditto for Dowling Street. There are more than 1,000 sites in the state that memorialize the Confederacy. Actually, just to play it safe, we may wind up naming our cities after vegetables and our schools after rocks.

Six flags flew over Texas. All six, like the statue of Jefferson Davis, stand on the UT campus and not just among the trees on the South Mall. Check out the Longhorns’ football stadium. Six seals of six governments are on the floor of the Capitol rotunda. Forget the blue chalk. We need a jackhammer. One of those flags and seals represents the France of Louis XIV. He was a despot, a tyrant, who lived in opulence while his people starved. Remembering him does not mean we like him. Another flag, another seal, is that of Spain. The Spanish flag flew over Texas longer than all the others combined. It was the Spain of Torquemada. Are we to say this means we approved of the Inquisition? Mexico’s flag marched with Santa Anna as he butchered his way across Texas. Should it come down? And there is the Lone Star flag. The Republic of Texas had monumental problems. We are still working on them.

Getting back to Jefferson Davis, when the Confederacy collapsed in the spring of 1865, Davis sought to escape across the South and into – guess where? — Texas. However, he was captured, imprisoned and kept in leg irons, so getting your pedestal marked in blue chalk doesn’t seem so bad. After Reconstruction, a movement was launched in Dallas to purchase a homestead for Davis and invite him to move to Texas.

He actually did visit Texas with his wife and spent the night in Houston on May 10, 1875, after being greeted by a huge crowd of his old soldiers. Apparently the Davises took a train ride to College Station to look it over, and on June 14, 1875, Davis was offered the presidency of the newly established Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. When he declined the appointment on July 8, 1875, he wrote of his hopes of revisiting Texas. What if Davis had taken the job? He knew how to lead, organize and make a lot out of a little. A&M may have long surpassed that upstart in Austin – A&M is our oldest public university. Maybe Davis could have started an Aggie tradition to keep Johnny Football sober: leg irons.

 

Ashby is statuesque at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VAULTS ACROSS TEXAS

June 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

MY BACK YARD – Just dig a big hole, dump the bars in here, cover them up, and the problem is solved. I won’t charge the state more than, say, 100K a year. What a savings for Texas. In case you missed the story, let me back up. The State of Texas has been storing its gold in a bullion depository (banks), and the banks are charging us a small fortune each year to keep it. This raises a slew of questions which we shall try to sort out and come up with a solution.

First, did you even know the State of Texas had gold in any form, lots of it, totaling more than $1 billion? No one told us, and there is probably a very good reason for that, which would explain nothing. Another question: Where is our fortune? The end of the rainbow is mostly stashed in New York City banks and some “may” be stored in Delaware. May? This story gets stranger and stranger. We’ve got gold, some in banks where it may or may not be? Who’s watching the store?

Sen. Lois W. Kolkhorst, Republican of Brenham, that’s who. She is quoted as saying, “The state has gold, and several years ago (the University of Texas Investment Management Corp. or UTIMCO) purchased just under a billion dollars’ worth of gold.” Kolkhorst said UTIMCO in March had 5,610 gold bars in its portfolio, an investment worth $645 million, and was being charged a storage fee of $108 per bar by a bullion depository in New York City, a total cost of more than $605,000 a year.

Why does UT have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in gold hidden in New York City vaults, while the school is constantly raising tuition, all the time whining to the legislature that UT needs more state money? What does a decent halfback cost these days? (Harvard came under Congressional scrutiny awhile back when it was noted tuition was $45,278 plus room and board, while the school had an endowment of $36.4 billion.) Is UT’s fortune in gold what’s really the cause of so much infighting among the regents, a chancellor or two, and presidents? UT thought it had hired an Oxford don as its president-for-the-day and was issuing all sorts of glowing press releases, when the guy stiffed Bevo and went to work at NYU. Maybe the Longhorns woldn’t give him the combination to the safe.

Remember that the UT fortune is only part of the stash. Who knows how much gold generated by DPS speeding fines and confiscated pelts from poachers are also parked there? To solve this problem a bill was introduced in this session of the state legislature, and passed almost unanimously, to create a Texas Bullion Depository under the authority of Comptroller Glenn Hegar “at a site not yet determined.” The piggy bank would hold gold and rubies and bribes to our state bureaucrats, and would be open — so to speak – to private citizens who wish to hide cash from the IRS and nosey relatives. The state would charge a modest fee to citizens, a nice business deal for all. Of course, the powerful bank lobby would oppose this for fear of losing banks’ income from safety deposit boxes, although it would be inconvenient to travel 45 miles outside Marfa to retrieve your treasures.

As mentioned, all of this is news to most Texans, and raises even more questions. Where would this “site not yet determined” be? There is already a vault in the basement of the Capitol, complete with a huge door, but the last time I checked it had been converted into a lawmaker’s office. No doubt most of the banks in Texas would be fighting for a chance to land that load. But the bill indicates that a state depository is the way to go. We could store it in the basement of the Governor’s Mansion, but as we have seen, the place was guarded by one state trooper who had already put in a full day at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. What’s more, most of the Mansion’s video cameras didn’t work, Former Gov. Rick Perry, his wife and their entourage of DPS troopers were touring Europe, so that beautiful 159-year-old Mansion almost burned to the ground.

How about putting those stacks of bullion in the Alamo, where we could visit the treasure? No, as we have noted earlier, the U.N. might confiscate all of it. Maybe build a concrete bunker, disguised as an English pub, way out in the boonies and call it Karats–in-the-Sticks. Gov. Greg Abbott and his followers are afraid the Pentagon is going to take over Texas, so we have a handy list of paranoid Texans with backyard bomb shelters which we could use as storerooms.

We might take a lesson from the federal government (stop cursing). The United States Bullion Depository, located at Fort Knox in Kentucky, next to the U.S. Army’s tank base, was built in the late 1930s to hold the nation’s gold reserves, and has never been robbed. Or so we are told. Has anyone actually seen that gold? What if a TV crew from “60 Minutes” finally gets permission to film our horde, the guards open the vault doors and – the room is empty? I think we can all blame Obama.

No other state has its own state bullion depository, so could turn a buck by safeguarding gold from all the other states. This precludes our depository from looking like, say, a giant cactus or a longhorn. We could put up a big warning sign, but a glittering neon reading, “Don’t Mess With Texas Gold” might turn off the treasurer from Ohio. Whatever we do, it will be better than shelling out hundreds of thousands of tax dollars each year to some Manhattan moneymen to safeguard our fortune. Sen. Kolkhorst observed: “New York will hate this.” Hehehe. Senator, what’s your point?

 

Ashby is golden at ashby2@comcast.net

LOST IN TRANSPORTATION

June 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

SOUTH OF SOMEWHERE – If I take a right at the next intersection, then a left and another left, I will be, uh, a bit left and right of where I am now, wherever that is. The main thing is not to get killed in an auto wreck here. My family will gather around my cardboard casket – I’m not big into fancy funerals – and ask one another: “What was he doing in Mexia? And why the ‘I Break for Cajuns’ bumper sticker?”

“Beats me. He was going to get his car washed.”

This is a variation of the old line about when you’re up to your rump in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your initial plan was to drain the swamp. My saga began when I decided to get my car washed, which was near the drop-off place run by the Sisters of Unneeded Stuff. So I loaded up my car with a dial telephone, a lamp that would turn on but not off, some books that didn’t quite make the best-seller list (“Peace and War,” “Moby Duck” and “Dial N for Nurder”) and my worn-out polyester leisure suits that my wife will no longer let me wear outside.

First stop, the charities. But the gate is closed so I have to go around to the side entrance. It is a good feeling to give those less fortunate some junk I don’t need, and the gifts can be deducted from my taxes. “Hi, I’ve brought a few cherished family heirlooms that I part with under great sorrow.” The attendant looks in my back seat. “Are you the same guy who tried to drop off five VCRs and a manual typewriter last week?”

“I still have them if you’ve changed your mind.” He shakes his head, walks back inside the building and locks the door. I take that as a no. Do you know the feeling of being rejected by an organization that accepts used fountain pens and pet rocks? Off to get my car washed, when I suddenly remember that I have a coupon from a tobacco shop, the Topic of Cancer, which is nearby. The address on the coupon is given as 55555 Westheimer, Suite 123. Just go down two blocks, so I am driving along Westheimer, which is quite busy, looking for the 50000 block. There are signs on both sides of the street, touting everything from tattoo parlors to gypsy fortune tellers. It is hard to drive, text, drink, eat and check for addresses at the same time.

I see signs, arrows, blinking neon lights and signs on stores selling signs, but no addresses. Apparently there is a city ordinance against posting addresses. How do firefighters, EMS drivers and cops find the site of an emergency? “911, there’s a big fire here at Smokey’s Fire Hose Shop, and don’t make jokes. It’s at 000 Westheimer. No, we don’t have a number out front. This is a very exclusive establishment – our hoses only shoot Perrier — so we have an unlisted address. Just look for smoke pouring out of our shop. Uh, and the shop next to us. Maybe two more.”

As Yogi Berra’s wife said when they were driving in the country: “Yogi, we’re lost.” Yogi replied, “Yeah, but we’re making great time.” I drive, stop, signal, turn left and right simply trying to run a few errands in a big city, and can’t. There are orange barrels in my lane, forcing me to stop, turn left then attempt to get back on Westheimer. “Dead end” reads a sign. Someone is honking at me. Smarter than most people, I get off Westheimer and go north, thence to cut around and. Wait. This is one way and I am going the wrong way.

It is a historical fact that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated only because their driver took a wrong turn in Sarajevo, had to stop and back up, which gave Gavrilo Princip the chance to shoot them. The assassinations caused World War I. Sarajevo must have had a no-sign ordinance. Don’t be smug. You, too, have also been lost. You ate your boots and drank possum urine. But in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot? I could have just called Uber and let a driver spirit me to my destination, but they couldn’t make bond. My car is equipped with one of those Global Positioning Systems, but the last time I used it I ended by parked backwards in my garage. Now I am passed by a car driven by a crash dummy.

I take the entrance ramp to the freeway to go around the construction sites but – as you well know – if you miss the off-ramp you just keep driving until you find an exit, which is in the next state. I spot an off-ramp and try to take it, but a convoy of Peterbilts prevents me from getting off the freeway. My first hint that I am not moving close to my destination is when the Border Patrol asks to see my passport. Somewhere around here is the car wash place, but by now I am so exhausted by this destruction derby that I’ll just wait for the next rain or for one of those high school car wash fund-raisers put on by bikini-clad cheerleaders.

If my wife were here, she’d say, “Ask for directions.” That’s such a wussie thing to do. Did John Wayne ask for directions to the Alamo or to the peak of Iwo Jima? (Actually, maybe if he had he would have lived.) OK, I give up and pull into a parking lot at a shopping center on the corner of First and Not First Streets, and call the Topic of Cancer for directions. “We’re in a shopping center on the corner of First and Not First Streets. But we’re closed because of a fire next door at a fire hose shop.” Close, but no cigar.

 

Ashby is lost at ashby2@comcast.net